Art History 101

Most of us have taken a course in art history—where you study famous artists, their particular talents, and bodies of work, influence, and place in history. Renown is reserved for a precious few. We memorize famous pieces, and usually come up with a favorite. Years later, we retain a smattering of what we’ve learned.

Although we will probably never hang a Rembrandt or Picasso on our walls, we all love the visual esthetic of a piece of art and know what we like when it comes to purchasing art for our homes. What you know and share about any piece of art can enhance your appreciation for the work and add layers of interest.

Why not consider an alternative kind of art history then. What if a piece had an interesting history, used a specific technique, was from a particular historic period you might relate to, or featured a subject matter you loved; would you be more inclined to purchase it or hang it in your home?

Consider that large watercolor hanging over the fireplace at your mother’s house, the one she wants to give to you. Do you know when and where it was painted? What do you know about the artist?

What if you found out it was painted by a Belorussian, a White Russian who had escaped with his family during the Revolution and spent years living, working, and painting in Egypt? The image was inspired by a particular region in Egypt and the artist painted it in the 1940s. From Egypt, he traveled to the United States to join one of his brothers who had come to New England years earlier. He later worked as an illustrator at the Smithsonian.

How does this information capture your interest, or change your feelings about the watercolor? Does it increase your appreciation for the time and place where this work of art was created? Can you relate to the artist and his or her life? 

Even if that image will never be displayed in the Louvre, it will hang in your home and tell its story. That's art history we can live with.